CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 41. . . .June 20, 2014
The Elevator Ghost.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2014.
166 pp., trade pbk., hc. & ePub, $9.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (hc.), $12.95 (ePub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-426-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55498-425-1 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-427-5 (ePub).
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Todd Kyle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The four joined hands at the card table Mrs. Floss had set up. Carolina Giddle closed her eyes. For a few minutes everything was silent except for the sounds of the old people breathing. Then Carolina Giddle nodded her head at Mrs. Floss.
“Your husband says to tell you he misses you and he hopes you found someone to go square dancing with.”
“Oh, my.” In the dim candlelight, it was possible to see a twinkle in the old lady’s eyes. “We did love to go dancing.”
Mrs. Chan’s grandmother only spoke a very little English, so it was more difficult to pass on a message from her.
But what surprised Carolina Giddle was a voice she hadn’t called up.
“That little house from a long ago,” the voice crooned. “Where blackbirds sing and daisies grow,/ Beyond the bend on the old bayou/ Someone’s a waitin’ there for you.”
Caroline Giddle had only known one person in her life who spoke in rhymes, and he had died thirty years ago. He was a dockworker with eyes the colour of nutmeg. She remembered the rough feel of his hand when he touched hers.
Now she blushed as she sipped a glass of Mrs. Floss’ dandelion wine.
Bringing her pet tarantula and her penchant for storytelling with her, eccentric Carolina Giddle moves into the Blatchford Arms, an old apartment building filled with rambunctious young families. Hiring herself out as a babysitter to various families, she charms the children with her Southern-flavoured ghost stories that are perfectly in tune with the children’s needs and fears. Meanwhile, she is visited by the ghosts of her great-aunt Beulah and of her friend Grace, both of whom once lived in the building. The story of Beulah and Grace is told at a Halloween party hosted by Caroline for all the children, after which she follows another old friend’s message from beyond and returns to where she came from.
An unusual and delicately charming story, the highlight of this book is most definitely the stories Carolina tells which are printed in italics in their entirety and which make up a good portion of the text. In the grand tradition of Southern US ghost stories, they are told in a conversational and folksy tone, as spellbinding to the reader as they are to the children they are directed at. But that is not to say that the rest of the story is not interesting, just that it is not as immediate or obvious. It takes some time, but eventually it dawns on the reader that the children and their various behavioural idiosyncrasies, all introduced in a barrage at the beginning, are being matched to just the right story Carolina tells while babysitting, amazing their parents and charming the children.
Woven into this are the interactions between Carolina and the ghosts of her dead friends, including the one quoted above who appears unbidden at a séance and eventually leads her to depart from the Blatchford Arms. The final story, where Grace is revealed as the “elevator ghost” who saved Beulah from dying in an elevator accident long ago, brings the story full circle with a delicate touch of pathos that is the perfect counterpoint to the often bizarre habits of the main character.
Told in short sentences, with unpredictable twists and turns, and full of oblique, slightly mature overtones, the story may be difficult for some younger readers to grasp, and they may give up before reaching the first of Carolina’s stories. It may have worked better had those stories been given more prominence, moved closer to the beginning, or separated somehow instead of being within the text of chapters. But undoubtedly, imaginative educators, librarians, and parents will find ways to use this book that will charm children just as Carolina does. A gem.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket (Ontario) Public Library.
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